For the next installment of ‘A Day in the Life of a Minor Leaguer’ we feature Pittsburgh Pirates center field prospect Jared Oliva
In a world filled with people who coast in life or get things handed to them, we find ourselves slipping into a sense of entitlement, and it has become the norm, so to speak. Not for my next ‘A Day in the Life of a Minor Leaguer’ interviewee – Pittsburgh Pirates center field prospect Jared Oliva. This guy has battled his way into becoming a highly touted prospect within the Pittsburgh Pirates organization and is right on the cusp of making it big time.
I got a sense of this when I asked Jared what kind of guy he is for the people who don’t know him personally. “I’ve kind of been an underdog in terms of my career. I grew up in an athletic family. My dad played pro ball, as well as my uncle. Everything was centered around sports and athletics.”
In terms of his high school and college career, “I didn’t start much in high school, I had to really work hard and figure things out. I had to really battle through the recruiting process and was super fortunate to get an opportunity to go to the University of Arizona and walk on there. It would’ve been very easy for the coaches there to pass up on me like I said I didn’t start in high school, so I’m very fortunate for that. I had the opportunity to be at a D1 school and be around great coaches and players. I took that opportunity and ran with it.”
He continued to talk about how baseball is “a marathon, not a sprint, I realize more and more why people say that. It’s not just in terms of a season; it pertains to more of your career.”
Oliva seemed to have persevered his whole life with baseball. “God has given me some talents, and I’ve been fortunate, but I guess my path coming up has been different from most peoples. That’s what makes it cool and unique.”
Stemming off of that incredible description of himself, I wanted to know if he had to condense his story to one word what would that word be? “Determined, I put my head down and put in hard work.” If you have followed this young man’s career, I think determined is THE perfect word for him.
With his father and uncle playing in pro ball, I wanted to know if having athletes and, more specifically, baseball players in the family, were they the driving force behind his passion for playing?
“Obviously, with my dad and my uncle playing pro ball, I was born into the game and with two older brothers playing as well. I was always around the ball field, so yea, my dad was definitely a role model. We all bonded over the love for baseball, and that’s something that has always been there for me.”
As we got further into the conversation, I felt it necessary to see where he wanted to go or what he wanted to do when baseball ends.
“I was fortunate when I went to Arizona, not just doing general education courses. I remember telling my dad that a lot of guys were doing this, what do you think? He said, no! You’re going to get a degree we’re paying 40-45 grand a year out of state, so you’re getting a real degree. Thank goodness he said that because I enrolled in their business school really worked my tail off to get accepted, and I ultimately got my business degree from Arizona and loved the marketing section of it. I’ve always liked the promotion/marketing side and would love to stay involved in sports with that. So staying involved in sports but using my marketing degree would be amazing.”
To get a gauge on where a player is at mentally, I love to ask questions regarding their future and where they want to be in a set time. So, where would Jared like to be with the Pittsburgh Pirates in three years?
“I’d like to be a staple piece in center field for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I realize how close we are; hopefully, we get a season in this year, but making the big club is the goal. This is something I have been working for, and I want to make the most of the opportunities I’m given. I really think I can bring a positive impact on the team because I know who I am as a person, especially in the clubhouse. I want help and bring that winning culture back to Pittsburgh.”
Jared is no stranger to a foreign environment and has always seemed to persevere. I wanted to know if that first year in pro ball was a complete change from his days at Arizona and if the speed of the game was a factor in it.
“Honestly, it wasn’t too much. While at school, the coaching staff had prepared us for what’s after Arizona because that’s the goal is to get a lot of guys drafted and move on into pro ball. Don’t get me wrong it was faster, but that first short season was more figuring stuff out outside of baseball. You’re living in a new area, and in hotels, you’re taking buses, and playing every day. The baseball part is the baseball part you’re swinging wood again and having those little intangibles you deal with. I think it was the fact of playing every day and getting used to that aspect and learning the game within the game.”
Growing up, Jared obviously had idols or role models in the Majors. The one thing I wanted to know was who they were, and also with us being similar in age, I wanted to see for myself if they were similar.
“Early on I was a big Eric Hinske fan couldn’t tell you as to why I think I was on the Blue Jays in little league and I went to a Jays game in person, and I was like OK that’s my favorite player. Then I dove into Alex Gordon’s career with the Royals. I really grew a liking to him; I felt like I had a lot of the same traits he does in terms of work ethic and things like that. He was on the fast track and faced some adversity, and that made me say hey I faced that too. The way he worked and came back, it made me want to be like him.”
Speed seems to be the theme within the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, and Jared is no different. Each of the last two seasons he has stolen 30+ bases, and I wanted to know is that the kind of guy he wants to be.
“Yeah, I think it would be a disservice to myself and the game of baseball if I didn’t try to play it to the best of my abilities. I also realize the kind of impact I can have on the game with my running ability not just with stolen bases but beating out those tough ground balls and on the defensive side running balls down. I can be having a bad day offensively, but if I was still able to get on base with a walk, I still know the other team knows I’m a threat when I get on first base. Whether I steal second or just having the pitcher pay attention to me a little bit more and make a mistake to the guy behind me and maybe drive the ball in the gap.”
If there is a season this year, this would be Jared’s third full season in pro ball, and I wanted to know during that time what was the one thing he took away from this experience and what did he learn. “Brian Esposito was our coach down in West Virginia he instilled the Pirate way in all of us and how to handle ourselves. The biggest thing you learn is how you go about the everyday preparation because it’s going to be different for everybody, but you learn quality of quantity and learn how to listen to your body and develop a routine and stay consistent with it.”
As a big minor league guy, I’ve heard some amazing stories of these fans in small towns kind of gathering around their team and just loving every player that puts on that uniform. Going off of that, I wanted to know how fans in Altoona (home of the Pittsburgh Pirates Double-A affiliate) were for Jared and just the whole team in general.
“They’re awesome they have a booster club out there, and their life revolves around Curve baseball. It’s really cool to see and be apart of because a good amount of them will be around in spring training too. It’s always refreshing walking out to the field and see them in the stands, and they really care about each player who walks on the field. They know how difficult this life can be for some guys, and it’s like a big host family up there and asking if you need anything. I will never forget that.”
Sticking with the Altoona theme and Jared’s time there, he worked on several things with the skipper and the hitting coach during his time at Double-A. “I was bummed to see Micheal (Ryan) leave I thought he brought an advanced look at the game of baseball and had a ton of knowledge which helped me in game to game situations. He’d pull me aside and talk to me about what the pitcher is trying to do and give me that game within the game stuff. With the hitting side with Nunnally and others helping me along the way as well. It was June I was struggling I had a concussion the first two weeks and wasn’t feeling myself and got into some bad habits at the plate. We’d go out and start from the ground up, and we started just hitting ground balls to second base. We were restructuring my barrel control and the path to the baseball. After hours and hours of work, it really gave me a sense of direction. I felt lost before that, but when we started working together, it simplified things for me. I was starting to feel more and more like myself.”
He continued to talk about his appreciation for Jon Nunnally or Nunns as he said it. He said they were still very close and tight, and he can’t thank him enough for the help he gave him. Slowly but surely, you could get a sense of Jared and the type of guy he is. Spoiler alert he’s a great guy.
Jared is right on the cusp of making it to “The Show” for some guys that is a scary thought, and it’s very understandable, but for Mr. Oliva, he seemed real level headed and realistic.
“I realize how close I am getting that big-league invite to camp was super cool and special to realize I’m getting the opportunity and want to make the most of it. Overall I felt it was solid. The first two weeks, I was nervous, but once I got comfortable and got my routine set. My last two weeks, I felt were beneficial, and I showed them what I can do. I realize how close I am, and this is something I’ve always been working towards, so I got to pinch myself because it’s my dream to get that first call-up, but then again I know myself, and I don’t want to make the situation any bigger than it needs to be. For now, though, I just want baseball to get back on track, and we can have a season.”
Like most of the prospects before their workouts seem to be a bit of a rocky montage with garage workouts, and Jared was no different. “We got PRX, bands, kettlebells dumbbells, and the workouts the Pittsburgh Pirates staff recommended for us to do. I’m working out four days a week with weights. I’m getting in some sprints, and I’m hitting, for the most part, four to five times a week. At this point, I’m seeing balls out of a machine to get the eyes fixed and throwing every day. It’s a pretty similar routine to what I have during the off-season, the only difference is I’m doing it in my garage.”
Jared sure seems to be ready for when the baseball season starts. I would expect him to start in center field for Triple-A Indianapolis when the season begins. But like most guys who are the cusp of making it to the bigs, Jared should get the call to “The Show” and find himself in a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform sooner rather than later. I can’t wait to see him play and become a staple in the Pittsburgh Pirates lineup for a long time!